Art on streets can be eye-catching in a variety of ways. Bright, bold and brave images manage to seize people's attention, but not always their imagination. Ernest Zacharevic works with his surroundings to make art that captures both.
Texture has always been a huge part of Zacharevic's art - all the way from being a child sticking things onto his paintings. He is still primarily a painter, but that's only one literal dimension to the work he creates. It's also only one dimension of the psychological aspect of his work. Painting is an interaction with a surface - but what if that surface isn't in a usual place? What about the walls in poor neighbourhoods and the walls of modern marketplaces?
When children see surfaces, they're a free and empty world in which they can explore and create. As we grow up, we lose that feeling. Zacharevic has tried to keep a hold of it, refusing to allow his artistic outlook to be overclouded by the trappings of our high-pressure society.
Intrinsically human, the interaction of the people, as both audience and participator, interests Zacharevic. Every wall has a history, just like every person. The way the artist interprets the wall and its history is testament to their lives story. The way the people interact to the artist's interpretation is also subject to their own personal history. The interconnectedness of this multilayered perspective leaves infinite room for exploration - their are stories upon stories to be both discovered and written.
It seems natural that childhood features heavily in his output. Although his outlook seems positive, there is a subtle melancholy enclose in his art. The children seem happy, yet stuck in a place that true happiness cannot be realised - their overall demeanour shows unfulfilled happiness. Their urban existence seems like they're dwelling in the streets but looking for a playground.
The Lithuanian born artist first rose to prominence for works he created in Malaysia, a city of two halves, that gave his work the necessary credence to flourish in faraway lands. From there he continued working, initially under the epithet of the BBC dubbed 'Malyasia's answer to Banksy'.
It would be unfair to rule out all comparisons. Their techniques overlap, they exist in similar spheres and there is a desire to reflect reality in their works. Banksy too, often focuses his artistic eye onto portraying children - a universal symbol of innocence, set against a backdrop that seems set on taking it away. Both of their characters look like they've had to grow up quick in a world that advances at white-knuckle speed.
In 2013 - his image of a Lego character holding a designer handbag approaches a corner innocently went viral. That's because lay in wait on the other side was a figure in a mask - she was about to become a victim. The scathing commentary of the violence present in Johor Bahru, Malaysia was too much for the authorities. The use of Lego figures made it seem strangely more real - regardless of your ethnicity or age, you recognised the secure familiarity of the figures. Officials were quick to rid the walls of the work - not before it had travelled several times around the world via the internet though.
Making these social observations are certainly somewhere that Zacharevic makes an impact. Recently, he worked on the Splash and Burn intervention which shone a light on environmental issues in a new way for him. Predominantly working in the urban sphere he moved inwards, both to the heart of a country and to a more introspective state to stage an intervention that reflects our relationship with the living world around us. The environment had been a subject before, but never on this scale or with this kind of potential to impact.
The initiative is aimed at directing attention to unregulated farming practices of palm oil in Indonesia. The market for the oil is increasing year-on-year, but production is destroying the natural habitat and displacing people and animals. By using art Zacharevic hopes to establish a dialogue and raise awareness to the issue. The aim is not as much to disrupt as it is to provoke unity. On land that was set to be cleared to allow the native flora to regenerate, he strategically cleared out areas leaving the letters 'SOS' to be seen from above - the effect was startling.
Whether ruminating on the loss of innocence, the effects that our society is having on children's freedom or the wider implications of modernisation and urbanisation, Zacharevic gives us the opportunity to remember how we saw things as kids. The world is an endless opportunity and one giant playground. The dreary cement walls and other physical constraints of growth have become as much a part of our contemporary psychology as our primal desire to explore and learn.
Perhaps the comparison to Banksy is a bit easy - afterall it seems like most artists working in the streets will have heard it said about themselves at some point. It remains to be seen though, whether the comparison is really too far off the mark. They are markedly different but create works that aimed at having a reverberating impact beyond their immediate surroundings. The key difference between the two seems to be in the feelings evoked. With Banksy we feel an anger, a spirit within us that is tired of being subject to injustice. Zacharevic on the other hand produces an equal emotion punch powered by sadness - because we were all kids once and he wants us to retain at least a part of that outlook.
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